Happy Gilmore Grows Up

Fart jokes and pondering mortality in Adam Sandler’s Click.

Adam Sandler in Click.

As a college student reading Renaissance poetry, with its recurrent themes of mortality and ephemerality, I remember thinking, fine, I get it already. Yes, yes, beauty is fleeting, man is mortal, where are the snows of yesteryear, blah blah blah. Isn’t there anything else to write about?

It wasn’t till many years later that I started to realize that, in fact, no, there isn’t. Watching your lovers disappear, your children grow up, your parents age and die, your own body morph into something alien and unrecognizable … this is pretty much the ultimate subject matter for art. Nonetheless, the transience of human life is an atypical concern for Adam Sandler, whose films tend to be focused on problems of a more immediate nature: getting barfed on by a walrus, say, in 50 First Dates, or frozen into a solid block of human waste in Eight Crazy Nights.

Even inClick (Sony Pictures), the new comedy directed by longtime Sandler collaborator Frank Coraci(The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy),our hero takes some time out from pondering the way of all flesh to fart in the face of David Hasselhoff. Nonetheless, Click manages to sneak some surprisingly moving moments in between the gross-out gags and the schmaltzy resolutions. The film’s central allegory—a literalization of the image of “living life on fast forward”—has enough narrative weight to balance out the dumb stuff, and you leave the movie theater with something to think about, at least for the length of the ride home.

Sandler plays Michael Newman, an overworked architect whose loathsome boss (Hasselhoff) promises him a promotion any day now—if he’ll just skip one more family holiday to put in extra hours at the firm. Yelled at by his wife, Donna (Kate Beckinsale), for disappointing their two kids, Michael vows to get his chaotic life under control. He starts by shopping for a universal remote control that will operate all his electronic devices at once. But a wrong turn in Bed, Bath & Beyond—into a section labeled “Way Beyond”—leads Michael to an oddball inventor named Morty (Christopher Walken) who gives him a remote-control device with the magical ability to manipulate, not only his TV set, but his life. Michael can mute the voice of his wife’s annoying friend (the marvelous Jennifer Coolidge) or rewind to witness (but not change) key chapters of his life. Most tempting of all, he can fast-forward through the boring stuff: sexual foreplay, dinner with his noodgy parents (Henry Winkler and Julie Kavner), or the months of drudgery that separate him from his longed-for promotion.

The trouble is that, like a certain digital video recorder many of us know, the new remote is a little too smart for its owner’s own good. Soon it’s hurling Michael backward and forward through time, causing him to miss not months, but years of his life. Wham! His daughter’s got breasts. Pow! His son’s getting married. Kablammo! His lifelong weakness for snack cakes has bloomed into a 300-pound weight gain.

For all its reliance on broad-as-a-barn jokes (the fat suit, the kick in the groin, the horny household pet), there’s something ineluctably melancholy about Click, as when Sandler wakes in the hospital to find his suddenly gray-haired wife at his side. This movie also understands something about the way we notice our parents aging in what seems like a series of short bursts. A flashback scene in which Michael revisits a childhood trip with his parents uses reverse-aging makeup to great effect, playing on the audience’s own associations with the actors. Who would have thought Winkler and Kavner could suddenly morph back into the Fonz and Brenda Morgenstern?

Consciously or unconsciously, Click borrows from It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, and Groundhog Day—all fables of moral redemption in which a too-proud hero gets his comeuppance only after being run through a temporal and existential gauntlet. Click is no Groundhog Day, but it seems like a welcome movefor Sandler, whose happy-idiot routine was getting old even for those who liked it in the first place. I can’t count myself among that number, but the next time there’s a Sandler/Coraci collaboration, I may stick around to see what happens after the walrus barfs.